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Wicked returns to Pittsburgh and I am still bothered and bewildered

John Davidson, on stage for 14 seconds, as the Wizard
Author's collection



There are times when the show must not go on.
Especially when an elderly woman in the first row faints, and has obvious, sudden medical issues though the band plays on.
This is what happened last night at the opening of Wicked. About 45 minutes into Act One, a woman in the first row---less than 8 feet from the conductor and performers---fell over. A doctor sitting behind her summoned some other people, a human gurney was made and they carried the woman up the aisle into the lobby.
A RN and I joined to help. We thought she was dead; her head was thrown back and she was silent.
All this while the music played and Wicked continued.
I had to roll up a Playbill and loudly demand that "the fucking curtain be brought down."
A few second later, the conductor decided it would be better to stop, the performers decided to shut up, the curtain fell and the house lights went up.
When someone is that ill, out of nowhere, seconds can mean life.
Or death.
Medics were called, the ambulance came, the show continued (before the ambulance came).
Depending on what was said, the woman either was overcome from stage smoke or had a seizure. I am not a medical expert, but I agree with those in that field: She had a seizure.
What a wickedly embarrassing act committed by the lack of immediate actions by the Benedum.
And I had finally found the courage to go see Wicked, the Stephen Schwartz musical I have been avoiding for years, again.
It’s not that Wicked is bad; it’s a lightweight 90-minute musical that’s been shoved and crammed and forced into 2 ½-hour wretched excess. The problem with Schwartz is that he does not know nor understand the word “subtle.” He knocks the show’s theme into your head about 7,821 times, and that’s not including reprises. Yes, Stephen, We get it: Don’t judge books by their covers. Learn to look at things in another way. Good is better than evil.
Maybe this is why those in certain theater circles know this story: When Pippin was getting ready to open on Broadway, director Bob Fosse actually had Schwartz banned from rehearsals because he was, shall we say, “overwhelming,” though Mr. Fosse certainly a more choice word.
Wicked is a “pre-quel” to The Wizard of Oz: “So much happened before Dorothy dropped in” the window cards used to insist. Too bad Dorothy didn’t make the basement.
The show’s plot is as cumbersome as it is cloying. Nothing is low-key. Everything is loud. By the second act everything is LOUDER. Strip the excess, and as Elphaba declares, “It’s smoke and mirrors.” And fog and wind machines, hydraulic lifts, flying harnesses, dry ice, black lights, Munchkins that are fully-grown adults (!) and enough M·A·C Landscape Green Chromacaketo make the Jolly Green Giant panic. It’s overwrought, overblown and void of magic and marvel, an insult to those who relish the Baum classics and the 1939 film. The Benedum stage turns Wayne Cilento’s complicated dance moves into spasms; costumes are by Adrian on acid.
So why all the fuss? Why do people spend their food allowance for the month on tickets, spend a pile o’ green on sparkly hoodies emblazoned with WICKED and follow the show across the country as if their pilgrimages will profit them?
The answer is simple: Schwartz is a master of knowing what the public will like, even before the public realizes it. Despite being panned by most major and, more importantly, respected New York critics, the show set Broadway records, making the composer and fellow cohorts more green than Elphaba.
Wicked is a commercially constructed hit that appeals to teenage girls and gay men, the show’s strongest demographics. The show is too dark for children who yearn for the wonder of The Wizard of Oz; it lacks the sophistication and wit that would make it attractive to adults. Dialogue, perhaps from Gregory Maguire’s novel or the show’s book author Winnie Holzman, are real winners: “There’s a goat on the lamb;” “I’m so happy I could melt;” “It’s a twister of fate;” and some broom nonsense about “flying off the handle.”
The show works hard to get laughs by playing off bits from the film (the obvious “There’s no place like home;” the groaner, when asked what’s in a beverage, “Lemons and melons and pears! Oh my!”) and it pays homage (some would say it steals) from Les Miserables, Evita and The Phantom of the Opera . . . as well as nearly every Schwartz show.
But Schwartz is capable of writing only one song over and over---choose the song (“Day by Day,” "Lion Tamer," “Corner of the Sky,” “Meadowlark,” “I’m Not that Girl”), choose the show (Godspell, The Magic Show, Pippin, The Baker’s Wife, Wicked) and insert in required slot. He’s not Sondheim or Porter (and certainly not Harburg and Arlen), but there’s something to be said about a man who can generate multi-purpose generic hits.
And that something is best left unsaid.

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